Opening statements begin for trial of James Alex Fields Jr.

Fields is accused of driving a car into a crowd at the August 2017 Unite the Right rally

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James Alex Fields Jr. admitted to driving his car into a crowd of counterprotesters at the Unite the Right rally in August 2017, killing one and injuring 35 others.

Courtesy Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail

The trial of James Alex Fields Jr. — the man accused of driving his car into a crowd at the August 2017 Unite the Right rally, which resulted in the death of Heather Heyer and injuring others — continued Thursday morning with the final jurors being selected and sworn in.

The original 360-person pool of jurors was narrowed to the final group of 16 jurors Thursday with 12 to sit on the jury and four alternates. 

Judge Richard E. Moore is presiding over the trial, which is scheduled to last until Dec. 14.  Before beginning the opening statements, Judge Moore prepared the jurors with a few words of instruction. The jurors are not being sequestered — or held in accommodations to avoid contact with the media — but Moore instructed them to avoid any media coverage or outside information about the trial.    

After the jury selection, each side gave their opening statements. In her opening statement, prosecuting attorney Nina-Alice Antony, senior assistant to the Commonwealth’s attorney, stated the goal of the prosecution is to prove Fields intended harm when he drove his car into the crowd of people.  

“This case isn’t about what he did,” Antony said. “It’s about what his intent was when he did it.”

Fields is being represented by attorney John Hill and public defender Denise Lunsford. The defense is conceding Fields was the individual driving the car, however, that he did not have intentions of malice. Hill gave the opening statement, in which he claimed Fields was acting in self-defense.  

Fields is charged with one count of first-degree murder and five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, each of which have a maximum sentence of life in prison. He is also charged with one count of hit and run and three counts of malicious wounding, for which the maximum penalty is 40 years in prison per charge.

Fields has been held in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail since his arrest in August 2017. 

Fields was also indicted on 30 federal charges in June. He was charged with 29 counts of hate crime acts and one count of bias-motivated interference with a federally protected activity resulting in death, for which he faces the death penalty. The federal trial has not been scheduled yet.

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